Barberitos Southwestern Grill & Cantina has been a staple of the downtown Milledgeville dining scene since 2007, but visitors who have gone there to dine in recent months have been treated to an entirely renovated restaurant. There can be challenges in addressing structural upgrades to buildings in the historic district, but the management at Barberitos left no detail unattended in this renovation.
“We went through and we tore everything out,” said Mitchell Medley, district manager for Middle Georgia’s Barberitos stores.
The renovation had the interior of the store down to the frame, but the end result included the installation of new vapor barrier under the floors and moisture resistant sheetrock, as well as proper sealing of the building from pests and up-to-date drainage. New booths were added in part of the dining area, the hot serving line was replaced and fresh paint and tiles were added throughout the entire restaurant.
When owners Phil and Martin Kohnen purchased the store in 2010, they knew they eventually wanted to make all of these upgrades. While the process for obtaining the proper permits for such renovation in a historic district building can, at times, be complicated and time consuming, the management team is thrilled with the end result. They even managed to use the building’s age to their advantage — by reusing all of the 150-year-old hard pine floor joists in the renovation.
“They are stronger than any wood we could find,” said Medley.
With its fresh appearance in place by mid-August, Barberitos was able to get back to the business of providing fresh burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads to its loyal customers. And while the traditional options of steak, chicken, ground beef and ground turkey remain popular, Barberitos also takes pride in catering to those who choose not to eat meat.
“We’re definitely the best vegetarian option downtown,” said Medley. “Everything that we make, we have a vegetarian option.”
Medley also pointed out that his manager is a vegetarian himself and takes great care to make sure the restaurant is following guidelines in this domain.
Another popular service that Barberitos provides is affordable, buffet style catering options that can be picked up by the customer or delivered to the site. Restaurant staff is available to come to your event and set up the food line, but with the simple self serve nature of the buffet, the customer does not need to pay for a staff member to stay on site for the entire time. All buffets are designed to make clean-up simple at the end of the event.
Another amenity offered by the Barberitos chain is a convenient mobile app that allows the customer to load their credit card information directly to the app so they do not need to carry a wallet in order to dine. The app keeps track of the points the customer earns with purchases. Points can be redeemed for various free rewards. A free cheese dip is offered to those who are new to the app. Reminders are sent for birthday rewards and various holiday promotions.
Barberitos strives to stay engaged in the local community by donating food and gift cards to various groups in town. They also host spirit night events for area organizations looking for fundraising options. On spirit nights, 15% of the sales between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. go directly to the featured organization. With the restaurant’s proximity to Georgia College, it often partners with such campus groups as GC Cure, Best Buddies and GC Leukemia Society for these spirit nights.
The timeline of the recent renovation was deliberately planned with Georgia College in mind. The restaurant closed July 1 and reopened Aug. 14, just two days before the students arrived back on campus for the fall semester. Though at times the management felt they were cutting it close on being ready in time, not being open for the students was never an option in their minds.
“We live and die by the college,” said Medley.
And he should know. Medley was once a Georgia College student himself. The Snellville native arrived on campus in 2008, and he started working for Barberitos in January 2012. He now considers Milledgeville his adopted home, leaving behind the Metro Atlanta life for the charms of a smaller city.
“I moved here because of the college and I fell in love,” said Medley. “This is my town. If someone asks me where I’m from, I say, ‘I’m from Milledgeville.’”